The desert wind and sun keep pulling more and more memories to the surface. I was thinking about meal times. When Louie and I first lived by Mom, I found a lot of Navajo ways strange, but then after time I began to see the sense of them.
The biggest cultural shock was the way the kids were fed. In Anglo society, young toddlers are given their own high chair and plate—usually prepared ahead of time. School kids and teens are either seated at the table with adults and their own plates or put at another table to the side.
Notah was a toddler then and I was at a loss at where to ‘feed’ him the first few times we ate with Mom. There was no formal table for everyone to sit around. There were a few mini tables made of pieces of plywood or metal laid atop stools or stumps. That was all. Where did I feed my baby? I decided I wouldn’t worry about it and I’d feed him when we got home. I could just give him bites off my plate ’til then.
Then it dawned on me. EVERYONE was doing the same thing. As we all ate Notah toddled around to all his family. Every time he came within reach of a big kid or an adult he had a tidbit handed to him! He got a very well balanced meal. And if he saw something that wasn’t offered to him, he just reached on the plate and took it! I was horrified at his manners, but the teens and adults looked on and chuckled!
What an amazing way to feed babies. Notah was stuffed to his little gills by the time we went home. He was so full and sleepy I hardly got him cleaned up and into his PJ’s before he was asleep—no supplemental food needed, no bottle necessary!
Neither did Mom give the other kids their own plate. The skillet or a plate was put on a low table or stool with a pile of tortillas and everyone sat round that table and ate from the community pot, using pieces of tortilla to scoop up the food. No one gobbled more than their share. No one tried to grab the best pieces. There was very little squabbling about food.
Amazing. Anglo kids would have had a humongous fight. I can just imagine Seth and Keva having to eat that way! One giant argument—“He’s taking all the potatoes!” “Keva grabbed the big piece of meat.” “ I don’t like this! Only fat is left!” “Keva ate all the meat!” “Seth won’t let me have any.” “Seth is feeding the tortillas to the dogs!” I can hear it.
For so many years, the Navajo people lived so much on the edge of want and starvation that they developed almost genetic habits of sharing. If your friend or family had something, you had it too. If you had something that someone needed you shared it with them, no questions asked. Because you knew that probably very soon in the future you would have a need that would have to be supplied by family or friends. Whether it was material or money, it was shared.
I wonder if it is still that way today. I've had to live in the east for many years since Louie died. So I can't be with them as much as I was years ago. Anglo false values and greediness have probably had an impact on those good old habits.